Help Make Sex Work Safer in London: Calling for the LPS to Reverse their Policy Direction

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Safe Space
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Attention: Chief John Pare

Publishing photos of those who have been charged is not about enforcing the law – it is about shaming the purchasers of sexual services. This approach, along with other end demand initiatives are directly harmful to sex workers. It does not end demand, but pushes sex workers into more isolated working conditions, out of the reach of supports if safety becomes an issue. There is over 2 decades of research documenting the harms of such approaches.

Less clients does not translate into less demand, less sex workers at risk, or less folks being exploited. It does mean longer working hours in more risky, isolated location to ensure finances are secured. It also means lowered rates for services, which breeds competition among workers, and erodes sex worker communities.

"Clients are worried about police. To avoid police they wanna move to a different area. I don't want to go out of my zone right. […] Once you get out there, like you know their turf so it's harder for me cause it's their comfort zone so they act differently, you know what I mean. Yeah it never ends up good”.

Over the past two years in London sex workers are informing us they feel pressured to present as trafficked in order to access the services at other organizations, and avoid more judgment. This is overtly harmful for those seeking consensual transactions.

Equally harmful for the sex workers if not more, is that you are taking away our livelihood. It positions absolute consent as a requirement (that apparently, according to prohibitionists, is impossible) for sex work. This is not the standard for other jobs where people face potentially dangerous working conditions, or subject to exploitation, including in the garment industry, food services, and home based childcare & nannies. We constantly see other people who engage in other forms of labour facing harm, i.e. ear drums being blown out, loss of limbs, chemical poisoning, attacks by patients. Rates of workplace violence for sex work are actually lower than they are for several other professions, including emergency room nursing. No one ever says, we must end mining! End heavy machinery operations! End nursing!

If home is the most unsafe place for women and their children, how come prohibiting marriage isn’t on the table?

No. Because that would be ridiculous. Instead we say, how do we make theses working and living conditions safer? How do we develop services that are responsive, meet people where they are at, and believe them when they speak their truth.

HOW DO WE MAKE SEX WORK SAFER!?

We decriminalize. Full stop.

In the meantime, do your homework. Talk to current sex workers in our City. Read the empirical evidence base, that has been peer-reviewed and subjected to rigorous ethical review. Program evaluation is not research.

Talk with local researchers and other allies, i.e. ANOVA.

We would like to remind you of the harm London Polices Services has caused to our community, and under your leadership.

• Let’s not forget London has the highest rates of unfounded sexual assault cases in Canada.

• Let’s not forget that Michael Hay (& all others involved) ordered release of a fellow officer busted in their John sting.

• Let’s not forget you RELEASED Oluwatobi Boyede with NO warning after a sex worker warned you someone would die after she was choked, sexually assaulted and confined and he went on to MURDER Josie Glenn

We have not forgotten.

These statements send the message to our community that if someone is trafficked they are a victim and we should empathize, and rally to their aid
But if someone is a sex worker, and they’re assaulted it’s their fault. It’s their ‘high risk’ lifestyle to blame. There is no consideration of how policing has contributed to what constitutes risk. It is not our fault.

What the current line of reasoning ignores:

• It ignores all the other populations engaged in the selling and purchasing of sex, and how sex work has been affirming in the lives of providers and clients alike, including those with disabilities and trauma survivors.

• It ignores the structural conditions that results in sex work as the best solution, including lack of safe and affordable housing, unsafe or inaccessible shelters, inadequate OW/ODSP funding levels, discrimination, racism, poverty, wait lists for residential substance use treatment, lack of trauma informed services …. On and on

• It ignores that consent as an ideal cannot be realized within capitalism where profit is made off of the exploitation of the working class by the owners of the means of production, and where resources are unevenly distributed across all members of our community

What a shame your sought direction solely from Megan Walker, who has pushed for this move for 10 years, regardless of what evidence has come forward in the meantime to demonstrate this is the wrong direction for communities to take to address the very serious concerns around human trafficking. 

What a shame LPD. Your unwillingness to invite us to the table is blatantly obvious. It is no wonder why nobody in our SafeSpace community trusts cops. You abuse your power, you continue to ensure the public sees us as victims, but at the same time ignoring a whole community of consenting adults when we tell you our lives and choices are more complex than simply being victims. You assume everybody is a victim, and ignore cries to decriminalize sex work to ensure we have safer working conditions.

You continue to say you’re just enforcing the laws.

However, how you proceed is a matter of discretion. The tactics you use, the choices you make, the way you engage in the discussion and with whom, those are on you Chief John Pare. You did not consult us, or even consider us worthy of notice this was coming. 

Now, you are publicly shaming our clients. Clients who are all types of individuals, and yes, from all walks of life. Clients who haven't done anything except engage in a consent based transaction. And while you are required to enforce the law, the added personal cost attached to this new policy will be paid off on our backs. We endorse reprimanding bad Johns and circulating publicly people who have been violent toward sex workers, but that would require you having discussions with us about what this means, to communicate openly with us about known risks, and this would require us to trust you.

End the end demand campaigns. These tactics hurt us. We are not making choices to do sex work or not, we are forced because of the way sex work is policed to make decisions to be more or less safe. We are trying to survive. You are making it harder for us to be safe. 

If the London Police were sincere in wanting to utilize all the tools available to them to identify and respond to sex trafficking in our community, you would speak with members of SafeSpace London - the only peer-driven, sex worker organization in our city. You would seek active and sustained relationships with our collective, demonstrating a willingness to seriously engage in reimaging what the appropriate role should be in enhancing safety for people in vulnerable situations in our community who engage in sex work. You would seek consultation before making a decision that directly impacts the lives and livelihoods of those they are professing to want to ‘help’.

 At a minimum, you would have provided notice to our community so we could have addressed the safety concerns this decision generates. You did none of this.

Do you know who is in the best position to identify people forced into the sex trade?

Sex workers.

The sex worker community circulate in areas with other sex workers. We are the first to bring someone we are concerned about to SafeSpace. People with a range of experiences in sex work and trafficking access SafeSpace. For almost 10 years SafeSpace has provided a community for anyone entering, working and exiting sex work. This includes supporting victims of exploitation in the sex trade.

Instead, the London Police, along with LAWC continue to blatantly conflate sex work with those who are forced through coercion and violence into the sex trade. You continue to groom the public to see all sex workers a victims. You have the resources ($$$) to sustain this agenda in our community; regardless of how not only us, but other organizations in our community, have pushed back against this problematic dialogue. 

What a shame. What poor policy development. And what negligence. We urge you to reverse this policy decision immediately.

We will not back down. Our lives are on the line. 

 

related media coverage: 

https://lfpress.com/news/local-news/sex-workers-allies-lash-out-at-new-london-police-policy-to-name-sex-buyers

https://globalnews.ca/news/4990230/safespace-london-fears-naming-johns-could-increase-danger-for-sex-workers/

https://lfpress.com/news/local-news/lfp-longform-is-publicly-naming-sex-buyers-wise-or-reckless

Quote source: Criminalisation of clients: reproducing vulnerabilities for violence and poor health among street-based sex workers in Canada—a qualitative study, 2014, BMJ Open.